Bag of Spoons
Just off the A1(M)

Fri, 06 Jan 2006

Yet another year

We did Xmas at home with most of the family, then all migrated north to Edinburgh to be with my sister. We went up on the GNER Mallard train, which was pretty good. Comfy seats and a smooth ride. If you need it they have power sockets and wi-fi if you need them, but the internet will cost you a bit. The train ran a bit late due to frozen power lines in the borders, but I guess that's a hazard of the season.

Edinburgh had less snow than home, but still pretty cold. We didn't do the big New Year party, but we did go on the pagan torchlit procession with longboat burning vikings. The fireworks then and for new year were very good.

Edinburgh is a nice city and we hope to go up for the festival one year.

Whilst there I finally purchased myself a djembe from Drum Central. Now I just have to learn to play the thing. I think I have some natural rhythm, but I have to communicate that to my hands. There's another session with Secret Bass on Sunday, so I can try it out then.

I just got a 1GB card for my Palm. It cost half what my 256MB card cost a couple of years back. Now I can carry a bit more music with me on trips. I still don't feel the need for a multi-gigabyte player. I'm never away from a computer for that long and I like to pick and choose my listening. I'm in the process of re-ripping my CDs in Ogg Vorbis. I used to use MP3 at lower bit rates, but I feel the need for better quality and to use a more open standard. Aeroplayer seems to cope well with my needs, but did consistenly crash the Palm on one file recently. My dad just bought the Palm TX. It has more memory, a bigger screen and a faster CPU over my Zire, as well as wi-fi plus Bluetooth for about what mine cost new. That's progress. Mine will do me for now as an organiser that can also play music.

[22:16] | [/News] | Comments | G

Tue, 27 Dec 2005

Tis the season to be gullible

The BBC have yet another story about some object that appears to bear the image of someone holy, in this case Mother Theresa appeared on a cinnamon bun a few years back. The bun has just been stolen. To me it looks more like one of the seven dwarves.

The human brain has a natural tendency to try and see patterns. It could be clouds that look like animals or vegetables that look like bodily parts. It's inevitable that you will get the odd thing that looks like a face. But how do they know it looks like Jesus or Mary? I didn't think there were any contempory pictures of them and I bet they didn't look as European as many pictures show. Some of those objects look more like Father Christmas or Marylin Monroe to me.

I guess some people are just desperate for some confirmation of their 'faith', i.e. blind trust in old stories. Maybe they feel under threat from science explaining everything. I would hope we have grown out of the age of people being condemned for discovering things that challenged the holy books. The recent Egypt series on BBC 1 showed the church getting anxious about the possibility of heiroglyphics saying things they didn't like.

I'm not totally against religion as a guide to living a good life or as a comfort in difficult times, but I don't feel the need myself.

Maybe I could do a Thought for the day on Radio 4!

[14:57] | [/News] | Comments | G

Thu, 22 Dec 2005

The Curious Life of Robert Hooke by Lisa Jardine 3/5

In my quest to catch up on some history I have read biographies of Newton and Pepys. My latest read was a bout the slightly less known Robert Hooke. He was a great experimenter who did all sorts of work with microscopes, telescopes, biology and mathematics. He did a lot of demonstrations for the early Royal Society, but didn't seem to get the recognition he deserved. He was also responsible for a lot of the rebuilding of London after the great fire of 1666, which made him quite rich.He was not the happiest of people and was continuously experimenting on himself with strange medicines that probably killed him in the end.

This book is a fairly accademic affair, but gives a pretty good picture of the man. There's a twist in that last line as there are thought to be no surviving pictures of him, but the author thinks she may have found one.

As with other similar books there is a large section of notes, but I find it annoying to have to keep flicking to the back to read the details of some quote or remark and tend to give up after a while, even though there may be interesting material there. There has to be a better way to present that information.

I did actually finish this just after System of the World, but that's because I took this when travelling as it's a much lighter book to carry around.

My next read is about the cracking of Japanese codes during WWII. Expect a report here eventually.

[22:23] | [/Review] | Comments | G

The System of the World by Neal Stephenson 4.5/5

It seems a long time since I started reading the Baroque Cycle. Through three long books I have followed the story of a set of people during the early 18th century. The main characters are fictional, but they interact with some of the greats of the time like Newton, Leibnitz and Wren. Stephenson has a very engaging writing style that really grabs me, even though I know the ending will not be the best. When you are reading for this long it has to be entertaining. It's taken me a few months to read this book, but I have thoroughly enjoyed it. The cycle has really got me interested in that period of history and inspired me to read a few history books.

I have a few related links over at del.icio.us

[22:11] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Wed, 21 Dec 2005

USA Sees Sense!

It often worries me that a religious extremist is running the most powerful country on our planet. Anyone who thinks that 'god' is on their side is dangerous as they could do anything.

Luckily there are still forces there who see sense. Their constitution declares that church and state should stay separate, although their money praises the deity. A court has just ruled that 'Intelligent Design' cannot be taught alongside evolution as science. Hooray!

It seems that some people do not understand what theory means in science. It means something that explains what we see and has been tested. Even gravity is a theory and most people believe in that. ID can be considered a theory in the context of 'seeming like a good idea to some people'. It's impossible to prove or test and so is not science.

The BBC have more details.

If you want to understand evolution better then I would recommend reading some books by Richard Dawkins.

Here endeth the lesson.

[08:31] | [/News] | Comments | G

Mon, 19 Dec 2005

Foo Fighters at Earl's Court

I've been listening to the Foo Fighters for a few years and have gradually acquired all their albums. It's not the most challenging listening, but they make a great noise. There's some nice acoustic work on the latest album. At this gig they were supported by Eagles of Death Metal and The Futureheads. The former I had heard of in relation to Queens of the Stone Age, but I don't know their material. This show didn't help much on that front as the sound quality was not brilliant. Dave Grohl joined them on drums for the last song. He really hits those skins hard. The Futureheads I knew from their cover of Hounds of Love and a couple of other songs. They made a nice enough noise and the crowd seemed to like them.

The Foos came on about 8:40. The stage consisted of piles of old amplifiers behind them and some screens hanging from the roof. They hardly used the screens to show the band on stage, mostly they had some random video stuff. They did have some great green lasers that lit the place up. Their set consisted of a mix of tracks from their ten year history. Again the sound was lacking. At times Dave's vocals got lost in the mix, but then the crowd knew all the words. They only did one of the 'acoustic' trackes, Cold Day in the Sun, with drummer Taylor Hawkins and Grohl swapping places. Grohl also did a partly solo Everlong. He must be hoarse and exhousted after a show as he was shouting and running aboutthe whole time. He even made his way through the standing crowd to swap guitar licks from the sound desk.

I would rate it as a fair gig. If the sound had been better it would have been more fun.

This was our second gig at the Court after Radiohead. Last time we had a nice meal in the Pizza Express, but this time they were only serving take-aways.

Whilst we were in town we had a wander around Harrods. There are some obscenely priced items there. Anyone who can spend 3000 on a pen should find a more worthy outlet for their spending. The Egyption themed areas are fairly impressive, but the Diana and Dodi memorial is one of the tackiest things I've seen in a while. I did have a brief drool over some of the big TVs. They were showing some High Definition clips, which was my first exposure to it. It does look very nice on a big screen, but I don't see us having it at home for a few years. We don't feel the need to pay for extra TV channels and it will be a while before it's available on something like Freeview.

[13:23] | [/Review] | Comments | G

Fri, 16 Dec 2005

Safe Flying

I have to fly a few times a year for work and it's becoming an ever more tedious process just getting to the plane. In the name of security you may have to remove your shoes, belt and other items of clothing that might set off the metal detectors. Anyone who wants to hear a ration opinion on security should read Bruce Scheier's site and/or books. I discovered him because of his writing on encryption, but he has branched out these days. He's written a good article on airline security at Sydney Morning Herald. He has worked as an advisor for the US government on the subject, but I donn't know if they will ake his advice. They prefer measures that might make people 'feel' safer even if they are not. I suspect someone is making a lot of money from all this.
[16:52] | [/Travel] | Comments | G

Wed, 07 Dec 2005

Help a school with your shopping

I'm sure lots of people are busily shopping on-line for Xmas. If you are then please consider helping out our local school by clicking through their site to get to the retailers. Just doing that will result in them getting a small percentage of each transaction at no extra cost to you.

Here's a link to the affiliate site. They do Amazon, CD-Wow and many others.

Happy shopping!

[10:44] | [/Site News] | Comments | G

Mon, 05 Dec 2005

Nailed

As I drove out of work today I thought something was a bit noisy. I pulled over and found that one of the rear tyres on my Zafira was very flat. So I proceeded to spend a merry half hour changing it. Being mounted externally the spare wheel is prone to theft so I had fitted a lock to protect mine. The problem it that it take a while to remore this bolt whilst holding up one of the rear seats. Got the job done and got home. Now I'll see if I can get it repaired as there's plenty of tread left. The fronts are a different story and I'm arranging to get those replaced by a mobile fitting company. They say they can repair as well. I'll report on how that goes.

I've been meaning to review the Zafira. It's a great car for the money. Seats seven in enough comfort for short journeys or can carry large loads. It doesn't have all the toys of the more expensive cars, but who needs them anyway? The 2 Litre diesel averages around 45mpg.

[22:05] | [/News] | Comments | G

Sat, 03 Dec 2005

Logitech Harmony 655 Remote Control

Like most people I have a whole gaggle of remote controls cluttering up my living room. I've got TV, Pace Twin (Freeview PVR), DVD, VCR and AV amplifier. There are a few options for replacing them all. Several years ago I bought a One For All 6. This is a very capable device that met my needs of the time. It could control my NTL cable TV. It could learn things like my obscure DVD's commands and with the aid of a home made cable and a little software could be programmed from a PC. Unfortunately it would not control the Twin without being sent away for an upgrade. I was also having problems with some buttons on the Twin remote, so I decided to go for something new.

I read about the Harmony on AV Forums and it sounded good. It came with a USB cable to allow programming from the PC and seemed to support all the devices I had. The price was a bit high at £70. I think this model is being replaced and I heard that Dixons had some for the bargain price of £30, but I didn't get one of those. Instead I resorted to ebay. I had never bought or sold there before, but there seemed to be a few of these remotes at reasonable prices so I placed a few bids and eventually won one for just over £40 delivered.

The remote is useless until you have set it up from the PC. The software consists of a utility that does the communication and has to be installed. Then you configure everything via the web site. This uses some Java (I think) downloads to perform various actions. This all works fairly well, but I have had some issues when trying to teach the remote extra commands. For now Linux is not supported, but I hope this will change.

As well as setting up each device you can also configure combined actions like Watch DVD. This can be set up to turn on the required devices, select appropriate inputs and then configure the buttons you need. So you can control the DVD, but have the volume buttons control the amplifier. If the buttons are too limited you can assign functions to the buttons by the LCD screen with appropriate labels. There is also a help button that will help you ensure everything is turned on and on the right channel.

I think you can have up to 15 devices which should be enough for anyone. There are other models in the range that offer extra functions and better displays for more money, but this one will do for me.

This is not aimed at technophobes. You have to spend a lot of time on the computer setting it up as you need to. I'm still tweaking.

The available commands for the Twin were lacking some of those which were not working on my remote. I mailed the helpdesk and they have retrieved those from the settings of other people and added them to my options. That only took a couple of days to resolve.

Overall I'm pretty happy so far. I just have to teach the family how to use it, but I do not forsee major issues there.

You can see the remote at Amazon, but if you purchase there please do so via PFGM to benefit our school.

[22:22] | [/Gadgets] | Comments | G

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